Tale of the Truth [ESP-021318.1]


   What is the truth? Most would say it's the state of something being true or in accordance with fact and reality. They would be right. But a select few, including myself, would think of a different definition, initially, if we were asked that question. When I think of the truth, I think of June 24, 1998, NBA Draft night, where the Celtics had the tenth pick overall...and they didn't waste it.

   Right after the Dallas Mavericks selected Dirk Nowitzki with the 9th pick (via trade from Milwaukee), the Boston Celtics picked the 6'7" small forward out of Kansas, Paul Pierce. Coming out of high school, Pierce was a McDonald's All-American and in his last season (junior year) with the Jayhawks he earned first-team All-America honors. He was also MVP of the Big 12 Conference in 1997 and 1998, as well as All-Big 12 First Team in the 97-98 season.

   In his rookie season in Boston, Pierce started 47 of the 48 games he played in. The NBA regular season was shortened that year due to second lockout in NBA history which lasted from July 1, 1998 to January 20, 1999. The Celtics finished the minimized season 19-31 overall but Pierce made his presence known. In 10 of his first 11 games he scored 19 points or more. He averaged 16.5 points per game for the year, shooting 44% field goals and 41% from three-point range. He finished third in the voting for Rookie of the Year. On September 25, 2000, Pierce was stabbed 11 times in the face, neck and back at a late night dance club in Boston's Theater District. Witnesses say he was trying to break up a fight when the attack on him occurred. Tony Battie, a teammate of Paul's, and Battie's brother, rushed Pierce to a nearby hospital where he had to undergo lung surgery to repair the damage done. Nevertheless, Pierce was still the only Celtic to start all 82 games during the 2000-01 season.

   During that season, he bumped his scoring average up to 19.5 points per game, quickly becoming one of the more gifted scorers in the NBA. In year three, Pierce started all 82 of the Celtics regular season games and averaged 25.3 points per game, good enough for eighth in the league that year in points per game (4th in total points; 2,071). In March of 2001, he averaged 30.3 points, 7.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.6 steals to earn Player of the Month honors. But his game on March 13, against the Lakers, is when he received a nickname that he would carry for the rest of his life. Shaquille O'Neal and the Lakers were defending NBA Champions coming into that season. But Pierce wasn't enamored with that title. He went on to score 42 points in a loss but Shaq was impressed. In an interview, Shaq was quoted saying, "He was just hard to guard. And I was just, like, 'Man! This dude is the Truth! You want to know about 'The Truth?' You can't handle The Truth! He was a guy that when he got going, nobody could stop him." From that day forward, Paul Pierce would be known as "The Truth."

   Then the 01-02 season came. For a second consecutive season, Pierce started all 82 of Boston's regular season games. He was named Eastern Conference Co-Player of the Month twice, for December and April. He averaged 26.1 points per game and 6.9 rebounds. He was selected to his first All-Star game in 2002 and scored 19 points with 7 rebounds and 3 assists coming off the bench. And for the first time in seven years, Pierce led the Celtics to the playoffs with 49-33 record. They won their first round series against Philadelphia 3-2 and their second round series versus Detroit, 4-1. They would lose in the Eastern Conference Finals to the New Jersey Nets, 4-2, but Pierce made sure to leave his mark on the series. On May 25, 2002, Boston hosted the Nets in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals with the series tied at one a piece. The Celtics trailed most of the game and even by 21 in the fourth quarter. Paul Pierce would go on to score 19 of his 28 points in that game in the final 12 minutes and help Boston overcome that deficit and go on to win the game 94-90. The Celtics had pulled off the greatest fourth-quarter comeback in NBA playoff history and took a 2-1 series lead. But the Nets would go on to win the next three games and advance to the NBA Finals, where they would get swept by the Lakers for their third straight championship.

   Pierce made the All-Star team every season from 2002-2006 on top of starting every game he played in during that four year stretch. He led the league in total points (2,144) in 2002 and was an All-NBA Third Team selection that year, as well as the 2003 season. He played for the U.S. National Team in 2002 and the FIBA World Championships. Sadly, during this impressive run of personal success for Pierce, the team wasn't flourishing quite the same. Those same four seasons, the Celtics overall record was 158-170 and a 1-3 record in the playoffs, including two first round losses to the Pacers in 04 and 05. Then in the 2006-07 season, Pierce only played 47 games due to injury and the Celtics finished with the second worst record in the NBA (24-58).

   In the offseason of 2007, the Celtics acquired Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett to help supplement Pierce and reward his loyalty for not looking to leave the franchise after an abysmal season the year before; thus creating what came to be known as the "Big Three." Boston would end up going 66-16 that season, getting 42 more wins then the year before. The playoffs would prove to be a bit more challenging than the regular season though. The Atlanta Hawks took them to a Game 7 as the eighth seed but were ultimately no contest for the Celtics as they went on to lose 99-65 with Pierce scoring 22 points and securing 8 rebounds. The Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round would test Boston in the same way, taking them to a Game 7 that would go down as one of the greatest in NBA playoff history. The King and The Captain dueled it out in an epic scoring rampage in Boston for a chance to go the Finals. Pierce finished the game with 41 points including two free throws to seal a five point victory (97-92) over Lebron James (45 points in loss) and the Cavs, advancing them to an Eastern Conference Finals showdown with the Detroit Pistons.

   Boston would end up defeating Detroit in six games, including two road wins, to advance to the NBA Finals. The opponent was a familiar one. Rivals to the core. The Los Angeles Lakers. Game 1 on June 5, 2008, started the series off with a bang. With 6:49 left in the third quarter, the Celtics were trailing LA 62-58 after a Kobe Bryant basket. Pierce jumped to defend the shot and came down awkwardly and would grab his knee in pain, making every Celtics fan everywhere silent as their hearts sank in their chests. He would be carried off the court by multiple people and placed in a wheelchair to be taken back to the locker room. Then, with 5:31 remaining in the third quarter, Pierce would emerge from the tunnel on his feet and hopping as a loud cheer developed from the crowd. He checked back into the game and sparked the Celtics with a 15 point third quarter en route to a 98-88 win. Ultimately, the Celtics would go on to win the NBA Finals in six games and Paul Pierce was named Finals MVP after averaging 22 points per game. It was the only championship Pierce, the Big Three, and the Celtics would win.

   In the 2009 playoffs, the Celtics lost to the Orlando Magic in seven games in round 2. The next season, the Celtics would again make it to the NBA Finals in a matchup with the Lakers. They took a 3-2 back to LA in hopes of claiming banner number 18 for Boston but they got blown out in game 6 and blew a 13 point lead in the second half of game 7 to end up losing the game, 83-79, and the series. While the Celtics would not win any more championships, Paul Pierce continued to build his legacy in Celtics history. On November 3, 2010, Paul Pierce hit a free throw to give him his 20,000th career point vs the Milwaukee Bucks. He became just the third player in Celtics history to reach that mark solely in a Boston uniform. On February 7, 2012, Pierce scored 15 points against the Charlotte Bobcats to pass Larry Bird for second place on the Celtics' all-time scoring list. He made his 10th NBA All-Star appearance just two days later. A month after that, on March 9, he played his 1,000th career game against the Portland Trail Blazers; John Havlicek and Robert Parish are the only two  players to play over 1000 games for the Celtics.

   On June 28, 2013, the Celtics made a deal with the Brooklyn Nets that would send Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett & Jason Terry out of Boston. Pierce went on to play for three different teams to end his career; 13-14 with Brooklyn, 14-15 with Washington, and 15-17 with the LA Clippers. On September 26, 2016, Pierce announced that the 16-17 season would be his last in the NBA. On February 5, 2017, Pierce made his return to TD Garden as a member of the Clippers in what would be his final NBA game in Boston. He started and played the first five minutes but would not come back into the game until there was 19 seconds left in the fourth quarter; he would hit a three point shot to the tune of a loud Celtic crowd. When the game ended he went and kissed the Celtics' mid-court logo one last time. And on April 30, 2017 (my 25th birthday), Paul Pierce played his final NBA game. The Clippers lost to the Utah Jazz in round 1 of the playoffs in Game 7, thus ending his 19 year career in the league. Pierce was waived by the Clippers on June 28, 2017. But on July 17, 2017, Pierce signed a ceremonial contract with Boston so that he could retire as a Celtic, the team he started his incredible career with. The Celtics announced on August 18, 2017, that they would retire Pierce's jersey and on February 11, 2018, the #34 was lifted into the rafters of TD Garden with 22 other Celtic greats.

   Paul Pierce is a cornerstone in this generation of Celtics' history. He was a guy who wanted to leave a legacy and remain loyal to one team, unlike many of today's current players. He gave his all for the city of Boston and for all former Celtics' players throughout history that represented what it truly means to have Celtic Pride. As a kid, I didn't watch the NBA much but I did play NBA Live 2000 a lot on the original Playstation console. I would always play as the Celtics. When I started watching the NBA around the 2002 season, I remember watching a Celtics game because that was my favorite team. I heard the name Paul Pierce multiple times during the broadcast and as I watched him play, not really even understanding what I was watching, I knew that he was good. He's been my favorite player ever since. In pick-up basketball games throughout middle school and early high school, we would pretend to be certain NBA players while we played. While everybody else would want to be Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant or Shaquille O'neal, I would always be Paul Pierce.

   On February 5, 2012, I got the chance to fly myself and a friend up to Boston for a game at the Garden, to watch the 'Big Three' play. I was star-struck as I entered this Boston sanctuary and set my eyes on the parquet floor and the many banners in the rafters. The Celtics were hosting the Memphis Grizzlies that day. It was also Super Bowl Sunday and the Patriots were playing the New York Giants for a chance at redemption from the previous time those teams met in the Super Bowl. Boston was out in full that day. The Celtics would beat Memphis, 98-80, and Pierce would finish with 21 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists. I'll never forget that day. It was the only time I would get to see Paul Pierce play in a Celtics uniform; a moment I will cherish forever.

   The next time I get to gaze upon the Garden, the #34 will be in the rafters instead of on the court. As great as guys like Bill Russell, Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Bob Cousy and so many others were for this historic franchise, none of them will ever mean to me what Paul Pierce does. I greatly respect and admire all of the players who ever wore a Boston uniform and played with Celtic Pride; but Pierce is my generation. He's the one I'll tell my kids about one day. How he bested the "King" in 2008, how he and the Celtics got the better of the "Black Mamba" to win the 2008 NBA Championship and so many other great moments. Paul Pierce is legend. Paul Pierce is forever a Celtic. Paul Pierce is "The Captain." Paul Pierce is one of my heroes. He is all of these things.

   And that...is 'The Truth.'

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